After a temporary hiatus, Google has reopened the sale of AdWords in the addiction treatment market under a new policy. The policy requires a 12-measure certification process for advertisers, and some of the finer details will emerge as the standards are put into everyday practice.
“This is a big deal because it marks a sea change away from the Wild West approach where internet providers pretended not to have any responsibility for the content of the advertising,” says Dave Aronberg, the state attorney for Palm Beach County, Fla. “It’s a step in the right direction, although I still want to wait to learn more before I make a final judgment.”
While he’s encouraged that AdWords will be available again, Aronberg says he hopes the bad operators won’t find a new way to game the system.
David Khalaf, communications specialist for LegitScript, the monitoring firm that will certify advertisers, says accuracy is more important than volume in the early stages. Only about 20 applications will be processed initially with others held on a waitlist.
“During our first three months, we're going to be intentionally slow and careful to make sure we’re properly certifying legitimate entities and accurately blocking the noncompliant ones,” Khalaf tells Behavioral Healthcare Executive in an email.
Applications open next week, and AdWords will be available to certified buyers by July.
Sober homes not in the mix
While treatment centers and support groups can obtain certification, sober homes cannot. Aronberg says monitoring sober living operators must be part of the solution because of the potential for fraud and abuse.
“The problem is that the federal government needs to have guidelines for sober homes,” he says. “That will send a message to Google and others that they need to do the same.”
LegitScript notes that directory sites and crisis hotlines that help individuals find treatment also qualify for certification that will allow them to bid on AdWords.
“If a directory site is referring users to recommended addiction treatment centers, then they would be evaluated as an addiction treatment center,” Khalaf says.
Replicating the policy
Google’s 12 certification standards ask providers for a thorough dossier of information—much of it echoes the licensing standards Florida recently implemented for addiction treatment center marketers. Aronberg says Google’s criteria seems sound and certainly could lead to more vetting in other digital channels.
For example, he’s spoken to Facebook leadership, asking them to create systems to remove profiteers and misleading information as Google has done.
“There is no safeguard in Facebook, but maybe this will encourage others to act similarly or at least produce a warning page for anyone who seeks treatment advice on the platform,” he says, suggesting that a checklist for consumers would be helpful.
Additionally, Aronberg would like to see Google Maps tidied up. While there is a more simplified vetting process, the map entries of ethical providers can be hijacked too easily by patient brokers with a simple swap of a phone number. It seems to him that the feature could be better monitored to sift out bad operators.
Aronberg headed a sober home task force that targeted fraud and abuse in Palm Beach County, and the local grand jury issued a report last year that recommended Google think twice before promoting facilities that bid the most per keyword click. In recent days, he’s been advising a new task force in Orange County, Calif., on best practices because as issues in Florida are settling down, leaders are seeing the schemers move to California where there aren’t any patient brokering laws.
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